“The Real Story of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Boss” was released last week. I was given a copy due to a request to proffer my thoughts about the book. My comment on the back cover said, “No one living knows more about Nucky Johnson than (author) Frank Ferry.” After reading the book, I truly believe my statement.
I took the book with me on a recent trip to Los Angeles to visit with my son, Jeff Kravitz, and his family. I started reading it on the plane and for 6½ hours I did not put the book down. I found it fascinating. The 294 pages were filled with not only an insight on Nucky Johnson, but on the other major personalities who played a role in the life of Nucky during the 30 years of his operating as a benevolent dictator in Atlantic City. He also played major roles in Atlantic County, the state and a couple of presidential elections.
In this well-written biography, Ferry not only relates the history of Nucky Johnson, but also provides an interesting insight into the development of Atlantic City. He notes the 30-year reign over the resort by Commodore Louis Kuehnle, who preceded Johnson. Kuehnle’s term was ended not by the voters but by the federal government, which convicted him of tax fraud.
Nucky was an ardent Republican and did everything possible to get people not only to register as Republicans, but make them get out and vote or they would lose their job. In addition to getting them to vote, he made them give a financial donation to the party.
Just about every segment of the city and county had Enoch Johnson Republican Clubs. He attended their meetings and would provide food, coal and clothing for those in need. He held daily meetings on the Boardwalk at Iowa Avenue and conducted business with various people involved in the government or businesses. He would then meet with anyone who wanted to talk with him.
Due to his ability to turn out huge numbers of voters, he had connections with state and national candidates who ran for office. Over the years, Nucky served as the clerk of the New Jersey State Supreme Court and he was the Atlantic County treasurer for many years.
Nucky Johnson’s biggest achievement still stands today, and serves the purpose for which it was built. I’m referring to the Atlantic City Convention Hall, as Boardwalk Hall was named then. Ferry relates how Atlantic City was known as a health resort. However, Nucky Johnson suggested that a convention center be built as it would attract more business.
Nucky made sure that work on the construction was done by local residents. In order to build the facility, the city had to go out for a bond issue. The citizens had to vote on the issue, and Nucky said he would get it approved. And he did.
It was the first building in the world of this magnitude that was built without any interior support. Due to his connections, Vice President Charles Curtis and a host of national and state dignitaries were at the opening ceremony, as was a battleship that anchored in the ocean and saluted this accomplishment.
An interesting part of the book relates Johnson’s connection with members of organized crime groups that later became the Mafia. Meetings of the seven top mobsters were held in Atlantic City, and reading about it was quite interesting. Although Nucky did not have a mob such as the others did, he provided his insight into their future.
For years the FBI tried to get those who made contributions directly to Nucky to be willing to go to court and say so, but they were not able to get what they needed until 1941, when they found a judge who gave them the information they needed to charge him with a crime. The trial was held and Nucky was found guilty. In 1941, he was sentenced to five years at Lewisburg Prison in Pennsylvania.
One of the most surprising events within related in the book is the story of Johnson’s wedding to Flossie Osbeck the day before he was to go to jail. It took place in a church in Atlantic City with 100 invited guests. Thousands stood in the street, blocking traffic to greet Nucky and Flossie as they left the church.
What happened to Nucky in prison? If you want to find this chapter, as well as why and how he sued movie actor David Niven, as well as many other anecdotes in the life of Nucky Johnson, I suggest you read the book. I believe many of you will like it as much as I did.
While I was in Los Angeles, I visited the Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavor. It is being housed there until a permanent facility is constructed. It was the thrill of a lifetime to walk under this magnificent, extremely large craft that took our astronauts into space. There were thousands of people walking around marveling at the amazing story of getting a craft like this out into the universe.
The Science Center also had an IMAX theater that showed the astronauts in space fixing the Hubble telescope. We saw how they trained to work on the telescope in space by working underwater. I also learned that while they were in space there would be a sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes. So for a few moments the astronauts are working in the light, then the dark. They made the corrections and the Hubble telescope lives on.
If you go to Los Angeles, I suggest a visit to the Science Center. It truly was an exciting venture.
Armed Forces parade
The third annual Atlantic City Armed Forces Parade will be held June 24. The parade committee decided to hold it in concert with the 11th annual Atlantic City Air Show, which will be held June 26. The parade will begin at 6:30 p.m. Due to the longer daylight hours at that time of year, it is anticipated the event will draw more people than it has when held later in the summer. I hope to see you at the parade and the air show — two great events coming up in early summer.
Pinky's Corner appears every Thursday in The Press. The Pinky's Corner radio show airs 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays on WOND 1400-AM. His TV show, "WMGM Presents Pinky" airs 7:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC TV40. Email Pinky at: firstname.lastname@example.org.